Kaplan, the executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, is perhaps the single-most important person when it comes to advocating for the state’s nascent creative economy. (He also chairs the board of directors of the Slater Technology Fund and the Quonset Development Corporation.)
Kaplan, a 1979 graduate of the University of Rhode Island’s pharmacy program, started his career in Eli Lilly’s pharmaceutical division, where he helped to pilot the introduction of Prozac into the US market. He then joined one of the nation’s top consulting firms, Accenture, as a senior strategy partner focused on the pharmaceutical and the biotech industries. Kaplan worked with large corporations to design and implement global strategies to bring new products to market faster. It was in this work that he learned the importance of making innovation central, not just in the business world, but also in public policy.
In 2004, Kaplan founded the Business Innovation Factory (BIF), an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing public and private sector partners together to find new ways of delivering important services. The BIF was created as a tool, he says, to implement an economic development model called “Innovation @ Scale.”
The basic idea is that well-conceived partnerships can leverage the Ocean State’s small size and strong social networks to create a lively experiment of fresh ideas and development models. Further, it would be these kinds of innovative partnerships, across industries and sectors, which could build Rhode Island’s information-based economy and provide new business opportunities as well as good-paying jobs. “What we were trying to create was not a tweaking of the old economy, but a repositioning to a 21st century economy,” Kaplan says.
RI-WINs, the creation of a statewide, border-to-border, wireless broadband network, became the first major test of this strategy to bring public and private interests together.
The premise was simple: big and small companies, as well as local and state governments, have an interest in improving efficiencies, customer service, and the transfer of data, while participating in a technological experiment that could put Rhode Island on the map as the first state to establish a statewide wireless network. While 24 other states are pursuing some form of statewide wireless project, Rhode Island’s early vision and partnerships put the state on a path to complete its network first.
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